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"Washington Heights" tells the story of Carlos Ramirez, a young illustrator burning to escape the Latino neighborhood of the same name to make a splash in New York City's commercial downtown comic book scene. When his father, who owns a bodega in the Heights, is shot in a burglary attempt, Carlos is forced to put his dream on hold and run the store. In the process, he comes to understand that if he is to make it as a comic artist, he must engage with the community he comes from, take that experience back out into the world, and put it in his work. Written by
"Washington Heights" brings fresh elements to the old, but continually autobiographical for young filmmakers, story of the immigrant's son who is striving to get out of the old neighborhood.
The lead could have been played by John Garfield, but as the old neighborhood is now a Dominican Republic stronghold, he's played by Manny Perez, who was also very good in A & E's "100 Center Street." Another alum from the same show, Bobby Cannavale, only gets to do a similar role as he did in "Kingpin." but we also get to see other TV series refugees as well in different roles.
What's new here is not only does he want to be an artist, but a comic book artist escaping into an exaggerated fantasy world. The usual conflict with the father is O'Neillian as it is not just rebellion, but complicated with responsibilities.
The financial struggles of each character ties them all together in a tense web of dependencies, making the climax more shattering to all.
Freshest is the lack of sexism and genuine affection for women; all the women are employed, independent, and not dragging the men down with unwanted pregnancies; nice to know characters in such movies have finally discovered birth control (though I missed a couple of plot resolution points involving the women).
The very long list of thank you's in the credits reinforces that the film was a labor of love with minimal budget, but the resulting cheap, available light cinematography is less Dogma-noble and more just plain hard to see.
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